Review for Supreme League of Patriots
The superhero theme is being tapped more and more for blockbuster entertainment. But there’s enough room in the genre for more than just men of steel and (literally) piercing gazes – the bumbling, inept superhero has just as much potential when cast in a comedic role. Supreme League of Patriots is just that kind of game, but also serves as a prime example of how just a single aspect of an otherwise promising adventure can seriously undermine a game with an impressive line-up of quality visuals, music, and voice acting. Unfortunately, Patriots relies too heavily on the lengthy verbal jabs constantly exchanged between its two leading men, leaving character development and an engaging plot by the wayside. As a result, the end product falls rather flat, inducing boredom as often as laughter.
On paper, Supreme League of Patriots sounds rock solid: A faux-retro comedy adventure in the style of ‘60s superhero serials but set in modern-day Manhattan, complete with over-the-top costumes and personalities, pastel graphics, an over-confident protagonist and a wise-quipping sidekick. And indeed, most tangible elements are well executed. But comedy is arguably one of the hardest genres to pull off well, and this is where the game begins to stumble.
Kyle and Melvin live in a paltry Manhattan flat, eking out an existence by performing menial work for the NYPD by day (Kyle as the janitor, Melvin as resident tech geek). But Kyle, broad of shoulder but rather narrow in mental acuity, dreams of becoming a television star. Hoping to catch his big break, he decides to attend the audition for “America’s Got Super Powers”, a superhero-themed reality show being produced in New York.
This sets in motion a chain of events spanning the first three episodes of what the game’s narrator calls its “first season”. Kyle, who accidentally does attain super powers by the end of the first episode, transforms into his alter ego, the Purple Patriot (so named due to the patriotic Stars ‘n’ Stripes costume that he mistakenly dyed purple in the wash), while Melvin tags along as sidekick – and often babysitter. However, only in the third episode do we actually see the duo in action against a villain.
Episodes 1 (A Patriot is Born) and 2 (Patriot Frames) are wholly devoted to menial preparatory tasks, like passing the reality show audition and lining up necessities like a hidden base, a means of transportation, and a crime-fighting license. The tasks are all a little underwhelming and mundane, which is a letdown considering the high expectations set by the superhero theme. Even when an adversary finally presents himself in Episode 3 (Ice Cold in Ellis), you’re never able to use any actual super powers to fight him. Instead, Purple Patriot relies on clever use of inventory items and rigging up gadgets based on what’s available. In fact, after playing through all three episodes, I’m still not quite sure exactly what powers he supposedly had. Incorporating these abilities into the puzzle-solving would have been preferable.
Gameplay is executed in classic point-and-click fashion, with objects of interest conveniently outlined in neon purple when hovering over them with the cursor (though I had to fiddle briefly with the resolution settings to make the game run flawlessly in non-windowed mode, which at first kept outlines from correctly matching their on-screen counterparts). Clicking an item in the environment will either bring up a list of actions that can be performed (TAKE, USE, or EXAMINE) or automatically default to EXAMINE when an item is otherwise unusable, causing Kyle and Melvin to launch into their scripted dialog. Hovering near the bottom of the screen brings up the superhero tool belt, with all current inventory items neatly slotted into it. From here, you can select an item to use on objects in the environment. In what seems like a questionable design choice, examining and combining items already in your inventory cannot be accomplished in the toolbelt; rather, a second inventory must be accessed from the top of the screen to perform these functions. A fast-travel map and a list of all current objectives can also be accessed via icons at the top of the screen.
Right off the bat, I was sufficiently impressed by the game’s cartoon-style presentation: character models and environments are full of color, music is easy on the ears, and during conversations, extra-large character cutouts fill the screen, mimicking their smaller in-game counterparts’ movements. Some small details, like fabric that is noticeably textured when seen close up, really caught my eye.
Of particular note are the voice actors tapped to fill the game’s main roles: dim-witted Kyle and cynical British sidekick Mel. As the game moves along, Kyle is exchanged (intermittently at first, then on a permanent basis) by the over-the-top Purple Patriot, who doesn’t “speak” so much as he announces, in a perfectly over-the-top dramatic voice, exaggerated for maximum comedic effect. The remainder of the cast, however, ranges in quality from “not noticeable one way or another” to “the development team got their in-laws speaking parts.”
Setting ancillary characters aside, a whopping 90% or so of the game’s dialog is between Mel and the Purple Patriot. Everything – and I do mean everything – you click on to examine, use, or take will result in a lengthy exchange between these two, sometimes topping out at over two minutes of back-and-forth banter per interaction! Each exchange is a joke in and of itself, often ending with a pun, comical piece of trivia, pop culture reference (nothing is sacred: referenced jabs are aimed at everything from Metal Gear to Occupy Wall Street to Barack Obama and back again), or any number of put-downs, usually at the Patriot’s expense. In the early stages of the game, players might be entertained by this, chuckling at the cut-downs. But the philosophy of “more is better” works to the game’s detriment here; while an episode of a sitcom or a bit of stand-up comedy can be raucously funny, listening to hour upon hour of one- and two-liners gets more than a tad monotonous. I still found myself smirking from time to time at a particularly clever bit of comedy writing, but the humor would actually have been more effective had it been more reserved.
Not all dialog is optional either; occasionally, speaking with a specific person about a certain topic is vital to getting the game moving forward again. Patriot’s sidekick Melvin takes this to the next level, with conversation topics that are context-sensitive and only appear while in specific locations (at least in the early parts of the game).
With the flood of dialog slowing proceedings down, I looked to the narrative for some enjoyment. But just as the humor never evolved past cheap potshots, the characters refused to undergo any type of development arc to keep things fresh. Each hero and villain is pigeonholed into an archetype, with such examples as “Russian KGB Villain” and “Gay Super Hero”. This certainly fits the retro comic book vibe, but the characters never reached nearly the level of interest of those classic personalities of comic book yore. The Purple Patriot easily trumps them all: equal parts homophobic, sexist, and xenophobic, he makes the perfect poster child for an anti-hero. The narrative could have shown him undergoing a slow change into a likeable, fair champion of justice. But by the end of Episode 3, he is still as narrow-minded and prejudiced as ever. Coupled with relatively unexciting goals and the barrage of questionable jokes, the story falls flat in every regard, and undermines what could have turned out to be a technically sound romp based on an exciting concept.
The development team used a kind of cookie-cutter approach from one episode to the next. Locations and characters introduced in the initial episode show up in both remaining chapters, with very little new content making an appearance. This with a line-up of characters and locales that is already quite limited, with less than ten characters and perhaps around a dozen areas to explore, including local landmarks like the NYPD’s local precinct, the Patriotcave (once it’s been attained), and – in a later episode – Ellis Island. While understandable for a game trying to squeeze the most out of its budget by reusing assets, it also makes Manhattan seem paradoxically tiny and empty – an odd move for a global city like New York.
Puzzles, when they do pop up between the lengthy stretches of dialog, should make gamers looking for an old-school fix feel right at home. Entirely inventory-based, players will have to closely search for items to gather, then stretch imagination to use the right ones at the correct time. Even for a superhero, making your way through a room full of rifle-toting thugs can turn into a dangerous venture unless you have the right household items on hand to rig up a solution MacGyver would be proud of. But an in-game hint system of sorts is also provided: should you get stuck, you can always ask Melvin for some general advice on what to do or where to go next. This option will prevent players from being helplessly stranded, but also keeps the hints general enough so as not to give everything away.
The music, far from a one-trick pony, has been written and performed with some aplomb. While I would have liked to hear more variety in the number of tracks and the length thereof (background music often feels like it’s on a pretty short loop, repeating over and over), its production quality is at a professional level and sounds crisp and clear. Each character you can interact with has their own theme, which immediately starts up when entering into a conversation with them. It can be a little jarring, however, to hear a poppy tune switch to a Latin-flavored salsa mix from one note to the next when you begin speaking to Consuela, the Hispanic character – most themes zero in on a nationality or some obvious character trait.
Supreme League of Patriots is a game – or rather a three-part season – that sounds great in theory and shows a lot of promise. Already, certain aspects such as the lead voice work, graphics, and music work well enough to count in its favor. Gameplay is classic fare and flows smoothly, if spread a little thin. The comedy could definitely stand to be dialed back a bit, however, as it’s hard to sustain the laugh-a-minute formula for hours on end, and the most vital component, its story, holds little interest at this point, veering away from the superhero formula it should be striving towards. As it stands, these three episodes are a mildly amusing diversion, but fail to lend its one-dimensional characters a much-needed basis for growth, causing both them and the comedy to fizzle out.